What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

It was either that or: “Love: The Deadly Choice”. You’re welcome.

This isn’t actually that post. While writing and re-writing that post I realized my perspective was off. I was writing about unrequited love but my definitions were off.

I assumed that loving someone and getting nothing in return was a destructive force on one’s well-being. But as I was editing away, I realized that true love has no expectations on its object. When we love someone and expect something in return we aren’t actually loving them.

If we get hurt when they don’t return the favor, were we really loving them unconditionally? Or were we merely looking for a tit for a tat?

Loving someone means dispensing with most of our expectations and loving them simply for them, not what they do for us. Expectations lead to disappointment and disappointment leads to bitterness. When one falls prey to bitterness it is nearly impossible to love. It is best to leave most expectations out of the relationship. Take care of your own actions and don’t place such a premium on the actions of your beloved.

This doesn’t mean that all expectations are wrong. One should have reasonable expectations that the one she loves will fulfill things he gave his word on: vows, promises, agreements on daily living arrangements, and others. However, even when those promises are unfulfilled, she ought to fulfill her own. It was her vow and agreement also.

Perhaps this is when unrequited love does become deadly. One must kill pride and the desire to demand what is owed by covenant. One must choose to love because it is what he or she promised. One puts to death one’s own pride and desire for retaliation and instead chooses to love his or her beloved because that was the promise made: to love until death.

Loving someone like this requires us to forgive when we are wronged, either by omission or by commission. Forgiveness is not an easy thing. Allowing someone back in who betrayed trust or withheld promised benefits means opening ourselves up to the possibility of having our love hurt again. As Christians however, we must forgive because Christ has forgiven us. Christ forgave our debt to God, and unless we want to end up like the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, we have to learn how to forgive debts from others.

And as Christ restored our standing with God we should strive as much as possible to restore the standing of one who has hurt us. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us, therefore we should emulate His love and forgiveness, even when our flesh tells us otherwise.

So, as the song asks, what is love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

If that is love, what is not love?

When we impatiently push our beloved to change, we fail to love.

When we are unkind in our words and deeds, we fail to love.

When we hold ourselves in too high an esteem, pushing down our beloved, we fail to love.

When we insist on our own way and put a prerequisite on our affection, we are failing to love.

When we resent our beloved or grow irritated at their failures towards us, we are failing to love.

When we allow evil into the relationship, we fail to love.

When we fail to bear with their weaknesses, think them liars, give up on them, or decide we just can’t handle their failures anymore, we fail to love.

When we quit loving, we have to ask whether we really ever loved at all.

Love is an action. It is a constant choice we make to put others above ourselves. Even though our motives for loving others should not be to gain something in return, it is helpful to understand that sometimes our love will not be returned. Sometimes we are spurned by those we elevate.

This is why promising to love someone is a risky choice. We risk the destruction of our happiness and comfort if that love is not returned.

None of us love perfectly. We all fail to love at one point or many. Knowing this, we should certainly sympathize with those closest to us. They will fail us and we will fail them.

But true love forgives a multitude of sins.

Beside Myself

Introspection is a confusing thing. Like many practices in life it can be good or bad. I was always told not to navel gaze. It can distract us from others and turn us into selfish monsters. But I think it can help us find our faults, work on them, and serve others better.

For me, more often than not my introspection turns me not into a self-pitying puddle instead of a selfish monster . My faults are many, what use am I to the world?

For many years I hated myself for wanting anything. I considered it a major fault that I had desires. Surely, I must have been discontent, I wanted what I did not have. God gave me everything I needed, who was I to tell Him I should have more? But I was wrong. It isn’t discontent to desire. It’s only discontent to envy. That’s a very different animal.

It wasn’t introspection that uncovered this error, I learned by looking outside myself. Introspection festered my guilt. Healing was found in extrospection.

I only found the truth by seeking out what God and others had to say about contentment.

Back in those days, I was my worst critic. I lied to myself and let my lies injure me. In my woundedness I cut myself off from the love of others.

When I turn inward I become a ghost. I spend so much time beating myself up that I forget others. I disappear. Nothing comes out of me because I am pouring everything into myself. I am there but I am definitely not present.

Perhaps a better form of introspection is a form that looks at how I treat others. Does that which comes from me match what is inside me? If what comes out of me is selfish or cruel, is that reflecting what is inside of me?

Before communion we are warned to examine ourselves. We are told to heed Paul’s warning to ensure we are recognizing the body and blood of Christ. We are also sometimes warned to ensure we are in good standing with our neighbors before we commune with Christ Himself. This type of introspection is concerned not just with what is inside of us, but with how we relate to others.

If I am in conflict with others it may be a reflection of my own hard heart. I may not be letting go of a particular sin someone has committed against me. Or I may not be repentant and seeking restoration because I am too prideful or stubborn to accept my fault.

To figure out if we are guilty of a hard heart we must be introspective. This type of introspection is not concerned with “finding myself” and “loving myself”. This type is about learning how to love others and loving Christ. It is a holy type of introspection.

Of course this introspection must be accompanied by an understanding of scripture. Without a knowledge of the laws of God we are unable to know our sins, except for those written on our hearts as Natural Law. We may know not to kill naturally, but without scripture we would not know that anger and insults make us just as guilty as a murderer.

Perhaps we could call this an “extrospective introspection”? We look to scripture and the Holy Spirit to show us the truth of what is in ourselves.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ” Psalm 139:23-24

Remake

New hat, who dis?

Sometimes life needs a giant reset button. Like that giant “Easy” button from those commercials, large and easy to just slap and make everything flash to a different plane of existence.

But life isn’t like that. Life tends to take the slow route. Nothing ever truly “resets”, it just evolves. Moment by excruciating moment our lives unfold, steadily leading us to an inevitable end. Even at death we are still waiting for that next second.

Frequently we try to hurry things along. We reinvent ourselves, try new things, move to a new place, try on a new look. We seek to break free from the dreary present and the often drearier past. But those things don’t simply topple like dominoes. They hang on. Memory is often our worst enemy, hounding us, reminding us of our failures, our broken dreams, and all the regrets of yesterday.

There is no speeding through this life. God has placed a strict speed limit on the movement of time. We must take it every second by second, allowing our natural evolution to work on our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

Sometimes we want the clock to slow. We want to savor the best minutes. Even this is futile. The best we can do is commit them to a foggy memory and hope our brain doesn’t dispose of it. Often this disposal comes at exactly the same time we need those memories to keep us going. Good is replaced by bad. Bitterness drowns out the best parts of our lives.

Why do the pivotal times have to drag on for so long? Changes can happen in a blink. Big ones. But sometimes the change takes so much time we begin to lose all hope. We begin to think it’s all pointless. Just end already, I’m ready to take the next step! We don’t count all those tiny steps and large trips along the way. We want giant steps. Even if a moment can change everything, the most important changes take place almost imperceptibly.

The way to maturity is a long and arduous road. Struggle makes us stronger. Trials and suffering build our character and keep us humble. We cannot rush through, we must endure all the way to the end, bitter or not.

I have never prayed so much. I have never clung to my faith so tightly. My current suffering has grown fruit in me and reminded me that all I truly have in life is a God who loves me and holds me in His hand. Even when others fail, even when I stumble, even when the circumstances seem stacked against me, He has me in mind.

The moments are still excruciating. Pain is constant. There seems to be absolutely no end in sight. He loves me and He knows me. He will hold me forever, no matter how much I may stray. He will save me out of my darkness, in due time. He allows all things, pain and pleasure, to work together for my good and His glory.

And what a glory it is.

Time

Sometimes you just realize that time goes on, regardless of whether you are with the program or not.

You sit and contemplate events in your life and you waste so much time trying to find some conclusion. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe God lets you suffer for no reason, like Job did. Maybe you are supposed to learn a lesson, maybe not. Maybe it’s just for His glory.

You worry for no reason. While you suffer now, you won’t suffer forever. Eventually all suffering ends. For a second at least. For most of us that suffering will continue forever, once the fa├žade of earthly life is gone. This is the best some will ever see.

For some of us that suffering is only temporary. A brief lifetime of misery followed by an eternity of bliss.

I hate my current existence. But I know one day I will trade it for an existence beyond all imagination: eternal communion with the God of the universe.

But only through the blood of Christ will I enter this bliss.

For those not trusting in that blood this misery will last forever.